SNIPPETS: Intimacy and reflections

Mari is washing her hands in the Skylark restroom. She is no longer wearing her hat – or her glasses. […] Every now and then she looks up at her face in the mirror. She turns off the water, examines all ten fingers under the light, and rubs them dry with a paper towel. She then leans close to the mirror and stares at the reflection of her face as if she expects something to happen. She doesn’t want to miss the slightest change. But nothing happens. She rests her hands on the sink, closes her eyes, begins counting, and then opens her eyes again. Again she examines her face in detail, but still there is no sign of change.

She straightens her bangs and rearranges the hood of the parka under her varsity jacket. Then, as if urging herself on, she bites her lip and nods at herself several times. The Mari in the mirror also bites her lip and nods several times. She hangs the bag on her shoulder and walks out of the restroom. The door closes.

Our viewpoint camera lingers in here for a while, observing the restroom. Mari is no longer here. Neither is anyone else. […] A closer look reveals that Mari’s image is still reflected in the mirror over the sink. The Mari in the mirror is looking from her side into this side. Her somber gaze seems to be expecting some kind of occurrence. But there is no one on this side. Only her image is left in the Skylark’s restroom mirror.

— pg. 80-81 (After Dark, by Haruki Murakami)

I wrote in my journal:

So what is Mari doing, looking intently into the bathroom mirror? And closing her eyes, and counting? We don’t know. Maybe we’re not meant to know. A personal encounter  only privy to her? Interesting, this invisible wall of separation. We — this infuriatingly vague “we” — appears to be sharing the same space as Mari — we can certainly see everything she is doing — and such a private space, a vulnerable space, the bathroom, and yet not really, being a semi-public facility, open to strangers of all stripes and spots. And yet, we cannot touch her, talk to her, “interfere” with her. We are intrusive yet utterly passive, voyeuristic — totally voyeuristic.

The irony of the scene really strikes me. Here is Mari, in a semi-private space. Here is also “us,” the infuriatingly vague and creepy “us” — is “us” referring to the narrator, a single anonymous individual, and me the reader? Or is “us” referring to the narrator solely, a multi-bodied narrator comprised of two or more anonymous individuals speaking in one voice, referring to themselves as one entity, and I am merely someone they have allowed into their circle, or perhaps someone intruding into their personal space? We’re totally intruding into Mari’s privacy, watching her silently as she attends to her toilette, in a state of undress with glasses off and hat off. We’re in a pretty intimate space with her. And yet, we aren’t. We aren’t sharing physical space with her. We can’t even engage with her — go up to her and say hi, or gently place an innocuous hand upon her shoulder as we scoot around her politely for a paper towel. We are utterly separated from her.

This theme, or question, of intimacy is a pervasive one in this book, and one I want to address more fully in a future post, where I can talk about the book as a whole.

The underscoring of Mari and her reflection reminds me of this article by Jane, about mirrors and reflections, both literal/physical and figurative. I don’t know what’s running through Mari’s head in this scene, why she’s closing her eyes and counting, what she expects to see. But I do see two Mari’s at play, simultaneously. There is the Mari I see physically, standing before the mirror, and the Mari inside her — the Mari I cannot access as a third person. There is also the Mari on one side of the mirror, and the Mari that lingers on the other side. This motif of dual selves, dual identities … is it raising a question about identity — projected identity versus internal identity? Or perhaps this is merely a device intended to highlight the question of intimacy. How close, really, can we really be to someone? How well can we really know them? Is the person we see and interact with the same person within? Or are they two different people? This scene seems to suggest the latter.

Readers — Perhaps this is a bit too heavy to ask on a Friday, but what are your thoughts (briefly) on intimacy and identity? What book(s) have you been reading lately that have prompted you to ponder?


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